If Luke Fickell has been clear about anything since he moved in as Ohio State football coach in May, it's that it's not about him.

If Luke Fickell has been clear about anything since he moved in as Ohio State football coach in May, it's that it's not about him.

In his case, "it" covers just about everything. The first practice wasn't about him. The first scrimmage wasn't about him. The first game of the season, against Akron today in Ohio Stadium, isn't about him.

Fickell made that point again in his final pregame meeting with reporters on Thursday, when there were more questions about him, including one about his "formative years."

"It's not about me," Fickell said, sounding a bit exasperated.

If he had to coach these knucklehead members of the news media, he would probably be lucky to win one game this season. Clearly, we're not very coachable.

"Again, this is more about football," Fickell said. "Obviously there are people who helped me grow up. I love them to death. My dad is a Vietnam vet, he doesn't talk much about it … some of those little things that aren't for now.

"I'm fortunate. I'm blessed to have parents who pretty much sacrificed, like a lot of us do, everything for their kids and gave them every opportunity. Maybe another time, but this is more about this team and what's up for Saturday."

"What's up" is the first game of the season. What's not up: The first game of his head coaching career.

"I want to focus on the guys and this thing," he said. "I'm excited. Have I thought about it? Have I sat and thought about it? No."

There would be a lot for him to consider, if he were so inclined. Following in the footsteps of all of the football legends who preceded him in the job, Woody Hayes and Paul Brown among them, is no small thing. The position he now holds doesn't come open often - since Woody Hayes was hired to replace Wes Fesler in February 1951, this was only the fourth opening in 61 years. Needless to say, it's an important day for the program no matter who gets to make the decisions on the Ohio Stadium sidelines.

But Fickell is right when he says it isn't about him. Someday it might be, but not today. After nine months of stories about rules violations by players and former coach Jim Tressel's failure to report them, this is a day when the Buckeyes go back to being football players instead of topics of a news story. That overrides everything else.

While the rest of us have been reading or writing about this stuff, the players have been living it. It hasn't been easy, obviously, but they repeatedly have said they used the crisis to turn their attention inward, to focus on pulling together as a team and on making any statements about the program and its problems with their actions on the field.

Today, they finally get to do that.

"I don't think it's different than any other year," Fickell said. "Our emotions have been good. Our energy has been good. The focus is always something we're going to harp about, but these guys are excited, they are extremely excited. I don't know that they are any more excited than any other year, but with all of the other things that have gone on, they are excited to go out and perform."

Nine months of turmoil has put a whole new slant on a game against Akron, which was 1-11 last year and, if not for the less-than-ideal conditions the Buckeyes face, might be an even bigger underdog than the 34-point spread set by oddsmakers.

With seven Ohio State players serving suspensions for rules violations, a new coach, new quarterbacks (plural), seven new starters on defense and the Buckeyes' ranked a lowly 18th in the Associated Press preseason poll, there have been so few questions about Akron this week that the Zips have barely registered as the opening-week opponent.

But even if the Buckeyes were playing No.1 Oklahoma, the top story would have been OSU's return from an offseason of crisis. Having a game against Akron makes the return easier, obviously, but what happens today in the Horseshoe will provide the first glimpse of the season to come.

No one will really know how the Buckeyes have handled all of the adversity until the end of the season, when we know whether the NCAA has added additional sanctions to the ones OSU gave itself, and whether the players have continued the program's championship ways or flubbed them.

The story could be about Fickell then. It just isn't now.

Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.